Times Metro Desk Explains Parking Reform For the Windshield Set

In today’s edition, the New York Times took a look at parking policy in Downtown Brooklyn. You wouldn’t expect the Times to explore a wonky topic like parking reform with the same depth as Streetsblog’s coverage of the proposal, but still, the article barely hinted at the huge costs imposed by parking minimums. Scarcely a word was devoted to the evidence that parking minimums make housing less affordable, or that they induce traffic and congestion.

The key to understanding the piece is in the first sentence. Reporter Thomas Kaplan — who usually covers politics in Albany, not zoning in Brooklyn — started it off with this snappy lede: “In traffic-clogged New York City, where parking spaces are coveted like the rarest of treasures, an excess of parking spaces might seem like an urban planner’s dream.”

Joined by Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek, I asked Kaplan on Twitter: Who, exactly, are these mysterious urban planners? Naparstek suggested that perhaps he was “referring to ‘an urban planner’s dream’ from 1956, suburban Long Island.”

It turns out Kaplan wasn’t talking about urban planners at all. “To the avg person who can’t find a place to park in NYC,” he replied, “surplus parking might seem like a good thing.”

So there you have it: The story is not intended for the majority of New York City households who don’t own a car, nor for a hypothetically “neutral” audience who might want to understand the significance of parking policy regardless of their personal stake in the outcome. It’s for “the average person who can’t find a place to park in NYC.”

The gap between the New York Times Metro Desk and Marcia Kramer may not be as big as you’d think.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s take it easy on Thomas Kaplan.  I mean, yes, he managed to reinforce all the wrong misconceptions about the “high cost of free parking,” but I didn’t detect a hidden agenda ala Marcia Kramer et. al.  

    Also, he tweeted that the South Ferry station repairs will cost about $600MM https://twitter.com/thomaskaplan/status/273183066065866753   So, he’s somewhat useful.

    If anything, he’s someone we should try to educate, instead of pushing away. 

  • Nice work guys!

  • @JarekAF:disqus 
    There definitely is a hidden agenda, every time. The agenda is, pandering to the mindset of people who expect cheap automobile use (low tolls, plentiful cheap or free parking, low fuel costs) even at the great expense of non-automobile users and other drivers alike. Newspapers of all types can be quick to criticize an expensive mass transit project that “not everyone can use”, but they never have that mindset about cars and automobile infrastructure/policies. 

    If they even had the SLIGHTEST bit of empathy in their writing, they’d figure out that not everyone fantasizes about more parking spaces. It’s true that few people are AGAINST them, but most people are either indifferent or unconcerned. Parking pandering is, at best, an appeal to one’s sense of entitlement over market forces, and, at worst, an intentional dishonest attempt to serve one’s own convenience.

    We should be polite to Mr. Kaplan but we shouldn’t pull any punches here. He needs to have it persuasively pointed out to him that he was wrong, and why.

  • Mark

    Parking is a public evil that greatly damages our city.   Every citizen of New York needs to understand that.   This includes New York Times reporters.   Any reporter who bothers to cover this topic has a moral obligation to understand this. 

  • Miles Bader

    I think it’s always been clear enough that the problem at the NYT isn’t a few rogue reporters, it’s higher up editorial/management, or culture, or something else more pervasive.  The tendency to come down on the side of cars and drivers is pretty consistent.

    Beyond actual stories, there are things like: whenever they have some sort of transportation-oriented “roundtable” there’s always someone from the Reason Foundation or the like participating (!); they long supported the freakonomics guys, who have some very obnoxious (and silly) anti-mass-transit positions; etc, etc.

  • @JarekAF:disqus Thomas Kaplan does great work on the Albany beat, and given more time to learn the issues I’m sure he’d do better with a parking story.
    In this case, I find it incredibly telling when a reporter says he has a specific audience in mind for his story. This particular story is no Marcia Kramer hatchet job, but I would submit that there’s a common explanation for the insanity of her transport-related coverage and the inanity of the Times Metro Desk’s transport-related coverage: They both produce news for an audience of car owners.

    Maybe Kaplan didn’t realize that most New Yorkers don’t obsess over their inability to conveniently park for free on the street (the only case where it is truly difficult to find a place to park). The people who do obsess about parking are the same New Yorkers who go ballistic over new development that doesn’t come stuffed with useless garage space. Consciously or not, the piece was written for opponents of parking reform.It’s certainly possible that Kaplan is right, and Times readers are much more likely to own cars than the NYC population as a whole. Imagine what a huge public service it would be if the Times explained the damaging effects of parking minimums to this audience, instead of running this tepid stuff that doesn’t illuminate the issue.

  • zach

    It seems to me that Kaplan is sarcastic in the first two paragraphs. After those first two melodramatic paragraphs come 12 fact-filled paragraphs arguing against 40% parking minimums in downtown Brooklyn, 22% household car ownership in the neighborhood being the most powerful of them.

    Maybe he was sticking with his Colbert-ish persona in the tweet?

  • FBV

    I’m a biker, I’m pro-mass transit, I don’t own a car, but the lede makes sense to me—one would think, given New York’s reputation as a difficult place to find a parking spot, that having a surplus of parking spots could be seen by some as a good thing. He’s not saying it’s a good thing, as you can see from the rest of the story. There’s no hidden agenda. I’m a big fan of the New York Times Metro Desk, as well as Thomas Kaplan—as well as Streetsblog. I think this was blown out of proportion just a little.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The New York Times is written for affluent people age 55 and over who were willing to stay in the declining NY metro because they weren’t forced to use mass transit.

    The News and Post are written for less affluent people age 55 and over who believe that driving their own cars, rather than being stuck on mass transit with the serfs, is what makes them part of the middle class.

    NYC’s representatives in the state legislature consists of those pandering to Group A and those pandering to Group B.

    I can tell you that if you do own a car in this city, parking is a big deal.  You have to think about it all the time.  Every Sunday and Monday night I’m glad our old car has been out to pasture in its natural habitat — rural Upstate NY.

  • Larry Littlefield

    BTW, in the last well thought out series I wrote on Room Eight before it started really breaking down, I wrote about “How Then Shall We Live” as the increasingly less well off younger generations following those now 55 and over.

    It was written for the U.S., not just for NYC.  But that is how the Times should be thinking, if it wishes to remain relevant.

    Although I chose to live a walking, transit and eventually biking lifestyle, the fact that so many people are now doing the same is a shock to me.  Empty parking spaces, as we have seen, represents a huge structural change.  And since it is younger generations who are driving that change, it will keep going and going unless somebody changes their mind, as the drivers die off or move away.

    Most people develop their ideas really young, and then close their eyes.  So don’t expect them to see it.

  • Anonymous

    In college I took courses in communications media.  After about two years I completely changed course upon the realization that most of the positive potential of radio and television was wrung out by the need to satisfy the advertisers that paid all the bills.  Must be the same at the now dying newspapers too.

  • kevd

    Overreact much, Streetsblog?
    After the first sentence nearly everything in the piece seems to be evidence for why reducing parking minimums would be a good idea.
    Yes, there are some dumb words from Letitia James but she is an elected official who represents residents in the immediate area.

    There probably should have been some numbers indicating how much these spaces add to the cost of apartments. But overall I don’t see a hidden agenda… Just a writer trying to use an opening line to get the readers’ attentions, and then totally blow their minds! Probably, because the writer assumes (like I do) that the typical Times reader would likely hold the erroneous assumption he presents in the opening line.

  • Anonymous

    That the NYT’s windshield perspective awfulness is overwhelmingly concentrated in the first two paragraphs of every story says to me that Streetsblog needs to figure out which editor is methodically inserting it into every story and go after him/her HARD. 

  • Hey Thomas Kaplan, I think I read somewhere that more than 50 % of NYC residents don’t own cars. So “avg person” like myself is not looking for a place to park. Only time I had a car was when the NY Times leased one for me me- – because I was the reporter covering the Brooklyn beat & lived on Upper West Side. That was, um, way back in the last century. My vehicle is a bicycle (2, actually.)


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